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Advancing The Effectiveness Of Serious Games For Health

Classes Turn to Exergames That Work Legs

Via: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

$8.25-Million research to investigate the health benefits of Serious Games

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) today launched Health Games Research, a new national program to support research to enhance the quality and effectiveness of serious games that are used to improve health.

The $8.25-million grant builds on RWJF's ongoing work to understand the potential for games to improve health and health care, and to forge connections between the games and health fields.

Health Games Research focuses on interactive games that are delivered or supported by digital technology. Game platforms and formats of interest to the program range from traditional video games on game consoles, handheld game players, arcade machines, computers, Web sites and multiplayer online worlds, to new kinds of games delivered, for example, by mobile networked computing, exertion interfaces (dance pads, cameras pointed at players, motion-detecting remote controllers), robots, interactive television, virtual environments, electronic toys, context-sensitive programs (using sensors, physiological and health monitors, global positioning systems), or other emerging technologies that are becoming more affordable and accessible.

Health Games Research will be located at the University of California, Santa Barbara and directed by Debra Lieberman, Ph.D., communication researcher in the university's Institute for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research.

Research Context

Research has shown that games can help increase players' physical activity levels, reinforce anti-smoking attitudes or improve young cancer patients' adherence to their treatment plans.

They also provide simulation environments that health care professionals use to hone their skills, and help policy-makers and public health leaders plan for natural disasters and infectious disease outbreaks. Growth in this field has underscored the need for more research to understand how games and game technologies can be designed to benefit people's health and health care.

"Research on learning and behavior change with interactive media—including games—has found that they can be very motivating and effective. So it is no surprise to find in the research that playing a well-designed health game can help improve players' health behaviors and outcomes," said Lieberman. "We need more research to develop evidence-based design principles that can be used in future health games and technologies. Studies funded by Health Games Research will make an important contribution toward this goal."

Call For Proposals

The first Health Games Research call for proposals, announced today, will award up to $2 million to support studies that investigate principles of effective health game design. In this initial round of funding, grant recipients will focus on games that engage players in physical activity and/or games that promote and improve players' self-care. The latter category includes games that influence people's health behaviors and outcomes related to lifestyle, prevention, adherence to medical treatment plans and/or chronic disease self-management. Health Games Research will support a second round of funding in 2009, awarding up to an additional $2 million in grants.

Beyond supporting and disseminating new research, the $8.25-million RWJF grant also will sustain and expand the efforts of the Games for Health Project to bring together game developers and health experts to collaborate and share best practices, virtually and in person.

Led by Director Ben Sawyer, the Games for Health Project will spearhead convening and field-building activities including: its popular annual national conference; regional events; competitions to spur the development of new, high-quality games and special partnerships; and other online and offline forums to strengthen ties between the worlds of game development and health care.

"This major new commitment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio will take the field of games for health to new levels. Research showing how games actually contribute to better health can help the medium reach far beyond the entertainment realm to help shape key health and policy decisions," said Sawyer. "Debra Lieberman is a world-class scholar in this area, and we look forward to working with the Health Games Research program to apply the strongest evidence to our collective efforts to strengthen this field."

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.

The Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio supports innovative ideas and projects that may trigger important breakthroughs in health and health care. Projects in the Pioneer Portfolio are future-oriented and look beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care.

For more than 35 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.